Is Soft Power the Answer to Isolationism? Looking Back at the Global Soft Power Summit

A contribution by David Haigh, Chairman and CEO of Brand Finance Plc, a TPBO Knowledge Partner.

On 25th February, together with 1,000 online delegates, we celebrated the launch of the Global Soft Power Index – Brand Finance’s market-leading annual research into perceptions of nation brands, with our second Global Soft Power Summit, held virtually due to Covid constraints.

Tom Tugendhat, MP and Chairman of the UK Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, kicked off the event with a rousing speech stressing the need for the UK to maximise its historic soft power credentials to help the nation get through the Covid and Brexit shocks.

We partnered with BBC Global News for the virtual event and all discussions were moderated by Zeinab Badawi, BBC News’ anchor and a superb moderator and commentator. She led a free-ranging, hour-long fireside chat with our keynote speaker, Former US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who explained her views on major foreign policy challenges facing the US and the world as a whole. She discussed the return to deeper engagement by the US in global affairs after the Trump years of isolationism and discord, which our research shows has seriously damaged US soft power.

Secretary Clinton’s keynote address was preceded by a fascinating discussion concerning the impact of Covid on soft power, with contributions from Carl Bildt, Co-Chair of the European Council on Foreign Affairs and Former Prime Minister of Sweden; Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; George Yeo, Former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Singapore; and Rebecca Smith, Director of New Zealand Story. The consensus view was that while Covid has created a once in a lifetime shock to national and international relations, those countries that help others more positively during the pandemic will benefit most when the emergency passes. Vaccine diplomacy has become a real opportunity for countries, including China, to win friends and influence people.

A second panel session, with contributions from Professor Joseph Nye, of Harvard University and the father of soft power; Professor Thuli Madonsela, of Stellenbosch University and Former Public Protector of South Africa; Steve Thompson, Insight Director at Brand Finance; and David Miliband, the CEO and President of the International Rescue Committee, discussed the future of soft power.

In a world in which economic nationalism and coercive hard power seem to be challenging the established multi-national consensus, which has stabilised the world since 1945, the future of soft power has become a critical issue. The consensus view was that nations need to work much harder to understand the levers of soft power and use them to influence world affairs to avert a breakdown in the established order.

Small countries, like Ireland, Sweden, Singapore, and New Zealand have led by example, but all countries need to follow. David Miliband expressed the view that true soft power has to start at home. How can any country fully exert its soft power abroad without resolving its own health, education, and governance issues at home first?

The proceedings ended with a presentation by Minister Ma Hui of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China to the UK. He clearly set out China’s position on Covid diplomacy and soft power, highlighting the significant role China has played across the developing world in fighting the Covid crisis. While the US and Europe have focused on their own problems, China has reached out to help the world and this will, no doubt, boost its future soft power.

The full results of the Brand Finance Global Soft Power Index can be found here. The report is free to use and has been accessed by nearly 3,000 media, academic, and governmental policy makers to date. The research sample increased from 55,000 in 2020 to 75,000 in 2021 and the nation brands rated by the respondents increased from 60 in 2020 to 105 in 2021.

Next year, we would like to raise the stakes again with 100,000 respondents and the nation brands in our ranking increased to all 193 members of the United Nations. We urge countries that wish to better understand perceptions of them from around the world, to use our Global Soft Power Index. It is an invaluable policy-making tool.

We call our study the Global Soft Power Index, but in fact it is a composite index made up of nation brand perceptions on a number of dimensions. After establishing Familiarity, Reputation, and Influence we deep dive into 31 metrics under 7 soft power pillars, which help to explain the three high level measures, but also give richness to our understanding of how nations are perceived by other nations. This year, we also added in additional three metrics on nations’ perceived handling of the Covid pandemic.

The soft power pillars we explore are Business & Trade, Governance, International Relations, Culture & Heritage, Media & Communications, Education & Science, and People & Values. Each pillar includes rich data on how and why different nations exert soft power over others.

What we mean by soft power is the ability of one nation to influence other nations through attraction or persuasion rather than coercion to take actions which will benefit the subject nation for its economic benefit. Whether through tourism, trade, immigration, or diplomacy – every country in the interconnected 21st century world needs to develop these skills.

We hope you will dip in and get involved in our next year’s soft power initiative.


More about the Brand Finance Global Soft Power 2021 index HERE. Brand Finance is a TPBO Knowledge Partner on nation brand value and soft power.  More about the company and services provided by Brand Finance, HERE.

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